The Limited Role of Women in Buddhism
In most modern religions today the roles of women are secondary to the roles of men. Most times women are supposed to be subordinate to men in such religions and this includes women of all classes and influence. But in Buddhism, a religion that tells us there is no self; no real difference between people; race, class and even gender are just titles that we must shed, are women’s roles still limited? And if so why is this the case? In this paper I will argue that women’s roles in Buddhism are limited, give some clues as to why they are limited, and I will show the difference in the roles of women in American Buddhism versus Modern Eastern Buddhism. The story of how Buddha began the nuns order is a story that has been told and retold throughout the history of Buddhism. Although some little details are different from place to place, the story is pretty much the same. “Five years after the Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment and establishment of an order of monks, his aunt and foster mother Mahaprajapati Gautami comes to him and asks that women, too, be allowed to ‘go forth from the home to the homeless life’ and be ordained as Buddhist nuns. The Buddha, however, refuses to grant her request, even after she has repeated it three times, and she and her followers have shaved their heads donned monastic robes, and doggedly followed him for hundreds of miles, distraught and weeping all the way. The Buddha’s faithful attendant Ananda then agrees to intercede on the women’s behalf, but he, too, is met with the same refusal. It is only when Ananda changes his tack and succeeds in getting the Buddha to admit that women are fully capable of attaining the goal of nirvana that the Buddha finally relents and agrees to create an order of nuns. However, he also decrees that all nuns henceforth must abide by eight ‘strict rules’ that will clearly subordinate them, socially and institutionally, to...
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